On the first night of the comet, Beth looks up between the austere poplar trees in their back yard and pretends to see what Jake sees, but the sky—star-smeared and wondrous—is just black gesso to her. Jake puts his arm around her. You’re looking in the wrong place, he says.
On the second night of the comet, Jake reminds her to first find Polaris—only a science nerd calls the North Star Polaris—then look west for the Big Dipper. Below that, the comet and its tail will appear to be nosediving slowly toward earth, a feathery white brushstroke the shape of your thumb. Jake points and Beth’s eyes follow his finger. She turns her head a little and Neowise faintly appears in her peripheral vision. I see it now, she says. A chorus of cricketsong rises from the tall grass in their backyard. She turns her head back for one last look and the comet is gone.
On the final night of the comet, Jake would not have to tell Beth where to look. And Beth would not have to tell Jake about her diagnosis. How she’d been putting off the appointment, fearing the worst. Macular degeneration. Stargardt’s Disease. She won’t tell Jake. Why worry him about it? The doctor will tell her she’s slowly going blind from the center of her eyes. Eventually, she won’t be able to focus at all on anything or anyone. To see Jake’s face, she’ll have to close her eyes. When she opens them again, she’ll see only the edges of things as they pass through her field of vision—neutrinos and lightning bugs, children’s shirttails and tiny, floating bits of cotton from cottonwood trees, the unrelenting passage of time.
First appeared in Janus Literary